Com­ing up in Philly the­ater: 1812’s The God Project’ con­sid­ers faith… and furniture

4 minute read
Joilet Harris, Sean Close, and Jennifer Childs star in the show. (Photo courtesy of 1812 Productions.)
Joilet Harris, Sean Close, and Jennifer Childs star in the show. (Photo courtesy of 1812 Productions.)

If the acronym “P.K.” means anything to you, then you probably have tickets already to The God Project, the final offering this season from 1812 Productions. It certainly means something to Jennifer Childs and Sean Close, who cowrote and costar in the world-premiere play, which runs from April 25 through May 19, 2019, at Plays & Players Theatre.

"P.K." stands for pastor’s kids, and both Childs (1812’s cofounder and producing artistic director) and Close (a frequent performer with the company) grew up as the children of ministers. They discovered their shared history several years ago, while working on an edition of the annual political revue This Is the Week That Is.

Spirituality that wrote itself

“I happened to be reading a book called Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, who’s a Jesuit priest,” says Childs, whose father ministers in the Columbus, Ohio, area. “I came to rehearsal one day and Sean was sitting in front of the theater reading the exact same book. From there, our conversations became different.”

The duo regularly began discussing religion afterward—something both acknowledge can be uncomfortable, even when you come from families of faith.

“We weren’t trying to write,” says Close, whose father recently retired from a pastoral position in Haddonfield, New Jersey. “We weren’t brainstorming. We were just talking about the ways we grew up in and around religion, and what God feels like to us.”

Yet their conversations eventually yielded The God Project, where they play a pair of pastor’s kids whose life experiences have led them in similar and divergent directions. They find themselves contemplating the big questions of life while working for a Scandinavian furniture conglomerate—not that one, they adamantly insist, but you get the gist.

The sacred and the mundane

“I can’t remember how the idea came up, but it was the idea of being someplace where you could be lost, that was mundane, that had instructions you didn’t necessarily understand,” says Childs. “I am enamored of the coexistence of the sacred and mundane together, and of finding God in the smallest places.”

Childs and Close are understandably tight-lipped about the particulars of the show, which they’ve developed for more than two years. Along the way, there have been many insertions and deletions. The virgin-birth finale didn’t make the final cut.

The company also features Philly stalwart Joilet F. Harris, who plays all the other roles, from cranky customers to the Deity herself. “It was important to us that Joilet play God and everyone else, to show the idea that God is in everyone,” says Childs.

Unlike other plays that deal with organized religion—John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, for example, or John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God—Childs and Close elected not to wade into the darker elements of spirituality. “That’s out there in the world right now, and dramas have a tendency to focus on the uglier parts,” says Childs.

“And we’re not scholars or theologians,” continues Close. “But we are preachers' kids, and that’s a very specific thing. We wanted to write what we knew, and to mostly keep away from scandal or debate. There is a rampant cynicism in some plays about religion. And we wanted some of that in The God Project, but we didn’t want to stay there.”

The everyday miracles

Instead, both say their interest lies in the “everyday miracle”—the ways that faith can foster understanding, connection, and fellowship between people.

“It’s less about God up there and more about God right here,” explains Childs. “We need the God in each other. It’s less about dogma and more about relationships.”

Close agrees. “As much as the cynical part of me will say, ‘Sean, do you really get tingly about the notion of miracles?’ I know I do. But I think they just look more mundane. And in that sense, we landed on something very human for us.”

Today, Close describes himself as a holiday churchgoer, while Childs regularly attends services with her husband and daughter. She even recalls a time when, in the wake of a serious automobile accident, she flirted with the idea of becoming a pastor.

“My dad was like, ‘That’s the worst idea you’ve ever had in your life,’” she says. “He said, ‘You make people laugh. That’s your ministry.’ And that idea is in the play: Everyone ministers in their own way.”

1812 Productions’ The God Project runs from April 25 through May 19, 2019, at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. Tickets ($28-48) can be purchased at 1812productions.org or by calling (215) 592-9560. There will be an open-captioned performance in English on Sunday, May 5, and in Spanish on Wednesday, May 8.

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